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This prophecy respecting Egypt extends only through this chapter. Its general scope and design is plain. It is intended to describe the calamities that would come upon Egypt, and the effect which they would have in turning the people to God. The scene is laid in Egypt; and the following things passed before the mind of the prophet in vision:
1. He sees Yahweh coming in a cloud to Egypt Isaiah 19:1.
2. The effect of this is to produce alarm among the idols of that nation Isaiah 19:2.
3. A state of intrnal commotion and discord is described as existing in Egypt; a state of calamity so great that they would seek relief from their idols and necro-mancers Isaiah 19:2-3.
4. The consequence of these dissensions and internal strifes would be, that they would be subdued by a foreign and cruel prince Isaiah 19:4.
5. To these political calamities there would be added “physical” sufferings Isaiah 19:5-10 - the Nile would be dried up, and all that grew on its banks would wither Isaiah 19:5-7; those who had been accustomed to fish in the Nile would be thrown out of employment Isaiah 19:8; and those that were engaged in the manufacture of linen would, as a consequence, be driven from employment Isaiah 19:9-10.
6. All counsel and wisdom would fail from the nation, and the kings and priests be regarded as fools Isaiah 19:11-16.
7. The land of Judah would become a terror to them Isaiah 19:17.
8. This would be followed by the conversion of many of the Egyptians to the true religion Isaiah 19:18-20; Yahweh would become their protector, and would repair the breaches that had been made, and remove the evils which they had experienced Isaiah 19:21-22, and a strong alliance would be formed between the Egyptians, the Assyrians, and the Jews, which should secure the divine blessing and favor Isaiah 19:23-25.
This is the outline of the prophecy. In regard to the “time” when it was delivered, we have no certain knowledge. Lowth supposes that it refers to times succeeding the destruction of the army of Sennacherib. After that event, he says, the affairs of Egypt were thrown into confusion; intestine broils succeeded; these were followed by a tyranny of twelve princes, who divided the country between them, until the distracted affairs settled down under the dominion of Psammetichus, who held the scepter for fifty-four years. Not long after this, the country was invaded and conquered by Nebuchadnezzar; and then by the Persians under Cambyses, the son of Cyrus. Alexander the Great subsequently invaded and took the country, and made Alexandria the capital of his empire. Many Jews were invited there by Alexander, and under the favor of the Ptolemies they flourished there; the true religion became prevalent in the land, and multitudes of the Egyptians, it is supposed, were converted to the Jewish faith.
Dr. Newton (“Diss. xii. on the Prophecies”) supposes, that there was a “general” reference here to the conquest by Nebuchadnezzar, and a “particular” reference to the conquest under Cambyses the son of Cyrus. He supposes that the anarchy described in Isaiah 19:2, refers to the civil wars which arose between Apries and Amasis in the time of Nebuchadnezzars invasion, and the civil wars between Tachos, Nectanebus, and the Mendesians, a little before the country was subdued by Ochus. The cruel king mentioned in Isaiah 19:4, into whose hands they were delivered, he supposes was Nebuchadnezzar, or more probably Cambyses and Ochus, one of whom put the yoke on the neck of the Egyptians, and the other riveted it there. The Egyptians say that Cambyses, after he killed Apis, a god worshipped in Egypt, was stricken with madness; but his actions, says Prideaux, show that he was mad long before. Ochus was the most cruel of the kings of Persia. The final deliverance of the nation, and the conversion to the true God, and the alliance between Egypt, Assyria and Israel Isaiah 19:18-25, he supposes, refers to the deliverance that would be introduced by Alexander the Great, and the protection that would be shown to the Jews in Egypt under the Ptolemies.
Vitringa, Gesenius, Grotius, Rosenmuller, and others, suppose that the anarchy described in Isaiah 19:2, refers to the discord which arose in the time of the δωδεκαρχία dōdekarchia, or the reign of the twelve kings, until Psammetichus prevailed over the rest, and that he is intended by the ‘cruel lord’ and ‘fierce king,’ described in Isaiah 19:4. In other respects, their interpretation of the prophecy coincides, in the main, with that proposed by Dr. Newton.
A slight glance at some of the leading events in the history of Egypt, may enable us more clearly to determine the application of the different parts of the prophecy.
Egypt, a well-known country in Africa, is, for the most part, a great valley through which the Nile pours its waters from south to north, and is skirted on the east and west by ranges of mountains which approach or recede more or less from the river in different parts. Where the valley terminates toward the north, the Nile divides itself, about forty or fifty miles from the Mediterranean, into several parts, enclosing the territory called the Delta - so called because the various streams flowing from the one river diverge as they flow toward the sea, and thus form with the coast a triangle in the shape of the Greek letter Δ D. The southern limit of Egypt proper is Syene Ezekiel 29:10; Ezekiel 30:6, or Essuan, the border of Ethiopia. Here the Nile issues from the granite rocks of the cataracts and enters Egypt proper. This is N. lat. 24 degrees.
Egypt was anciently divided into forty-two “nomes” or districts, which were little provinces or counties. It was also divided into Upper and Lower Egypt. Upper Egypt was called Thebais, from Thebes the capital, and extended south to the frontier of Ethiopia. Lower Egypt contained principally the Delta and the parts on the Mediterranean. The capital was Cairo.
The most common division, however, was into three parts, Lower, Middle, and Upper Egypt. In Lower Egypt, lying on the Mediterranean, were the cities of Pithon, Raamses, Heliopolis, etc. In this division, also, was the land of Goshen. In Middle Egypt was Moph, or Memphis, Hanes, etc. In Upper Egypt was No-Ammon, or Thebes, and Syene, the southern limit of Egypt.
The ancient history of Egypt is obscure. It is agreed on all hands, however, that it was the early seat of civilization; and that this civilization was introduced from the south, and especially from Meroe. The country in the earliest times was possessed by several kings or states, which were at length united into one great kingdom. Not long after the death of Joseph, it came into the possession of the Hyksos or Shepherd kings, probably an Arabian nomadic tribe. After they were driven out, the whole country came again under one sovereign, and enjoyed great prosperity. The first king of the 19th dynasty, as it is called by Manetho, was the celebrated Sesostris, about 1500 years b.c. His successors were all called by the general name of Pharaoh, that is, kings. The first who is mentioned by his proper name is Shishak 1 Kings 14:25-26, supposed to be the Sesonchosis of Manetho, who reigned about 970 years b.c. Geseuius says, that in the time of the Jewish king Hezekiah, there reigned at the same time in Egypt three dynasties; an Ethiopic (probably over Upper Egypt), a Saitish, and a Tanitish dynasty - of which at last sprung the dodekarchy, and whose dominion ultimately lost itself in the single reign of Psammetichus. The Ethiopic continued forty years, and consisted of three kings - Sabaco, Sevechus, and Tarakos, or Tearko - of which the two last are mentioned in the Bible, Sevechus under the name of So, סוא sô' probably סוא seve' Sevechus - as the ally of Hosea, king of Israel 2 Kings 17:4, 722 b.c., and Tarakos the same as Tirhakah, about the time of the 16th year of the reign of Hezekiah (714 b.c.) Instead of this whole dynasty, Herodotus (ii. 137, 139), and Diodorus (i. 65), give us only one name, that of Sabaco. Contemporary with these were the four, or according to Eusebius, five, first kings of the dynasty of Saite, Stephinates, Nerepsus, Nichao I, who was slain by an Ethiopian king, and Psammetichus, who made an end of the dodekarchy, and reigned fifty-four years.
Of the Tanitish dynasty, Psammus and Zeth are mentioned (Introduction to Isaiah 19:0) Different accounts are given of the state of things by Herodotus and by Dioaorus. The account by Diodorus, which is the most probable, is, that a state of anarchy prevailed in Egypt for two whole years; and that the troubles and commotions suggested to the older men of the country the expediency of assuming the reins of government, and restoring order to the state. With this view, twelve of the most influential men were chosen to preside with regal power. Each had a particular province allotted to him, in which his authority was permanent; and though independent of one another, they bound themselves with mutual oaths to concord and fidelity.
During fifteen years, their relations were maintained with entire harmony: but during that time Psammetichus whose province extended to the Mediterranean, had availed himself of his advantages, and had maintained extensive commercial contact with the Phenicians and Greeks, and had amassed considerable wealth. Of this his colleagues became jealous, and supposing that he meant to secure the government of the whole country, they resolved to deprive him of his province. They, therefore, prepared to attack him, and he was thrown upon the necessity of self defense. Apprised of their designs, he sent to Arabia, Caria, and Ionia, for aid, and having secured a large body of troops, he put himself at their head, and gave battle to his foes at Momemphis, and completely defeated them, drove them from the kingdom, and took possession of an undivided throne (Diod. i. 66). The account of Herodotus may be seen in his history (ii. 154). Psammetichus turned his attention to the internal administration of the country, and endeavored to ingratiate himself with the priesthood and the people by erecting splendid monuments, and beautifying the sacred edifices. There was a strong jealousy, however, excited by the fact that he was inbebted for his crown to foreign troops, and from the fact that foreigners were preferred to office over the native citizens (Diod. i. 67). A large part of his troops - to the number according to Diodorus, of 240,000 - abandoned his service at one time, and moved off in a body to Ethiopia, and entered the service of the monarch of that country. His reign appears to have been a military despotism, and though liberal in its policy toward foreign governments, yet the severity of his government at home, and the injustice which the Egyptians supposed he showed to them in relying on foreigners, and preferring them, justified the appellation in Isaiah 19:4, that he was a ‘cruel lord.’
Egypt was afterward conquered by Cambyses, and became a province of the Persian empire about 525 b.c. Thus it continued until it was conquered by Alexander the Great, 350 b.c., after whose death it formed, together with Syria, Palestine, Lybia, etc., the kingdom of the Ptolemies. After the battle of Actium, 30 b.c. it became a Roman province. In 640 a.d., it was conquered by the Arabs, and since that time it has passed from the bands of the Caliphs into the hands of the Turks, and since 1517 a.d. it has been regarded as a province of the Turkish empire. This is an outline of the principal events of the Egyptian history. The events predicted in this chapter will be stated in their order in the comments on the particular verses. The two leading points which will guide our interpretation will be, that Psammetichus is intended in Isaiah 19:4, and that the effects of Alexander’s conquest of Egypt are denoted from Isaiah 19:18 to the end of the chapter. Keeping these two points in view, the interpretation of the chapter will be easy. On the history of Egypt, and the commotions and revolutions there, the reader may consult Wilkinson’s “Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians,” vol. i., particularly pp. 143-180.
The burden of Egypt - This is the title to the prophecy. For the meaning of the word “burden,” see the note at Isaiah 13:1. The word ‘Egypt’ in the original is מצרים mı̂tserayı̂m; and it was so called after Mizraim the second son of Ham, and grandson of Noah. Sometimes it is called Mazor 2 Kings 19:24; Isaiah 19:6; Isaiah 37:25; Micah 7:12; where, however, our English version has rendered the word by “besieged place or fortress.” The ancient name of the country among the inhabitants themselves was “Chimi or Chami” (Χημυ Chēmu). The Egyptian word signified “black,” and the name was probably given from the black deposit made by the slime of the Nile. ‘Mizraim, or Misrim, the name given to Egypt in the Scriptures, is in the plural form, and is the Hebrew mede of expressing the “two regions of Egypt” (so commonly met with in the hieroglyphics), or the “two Misr,” a name still used by the Arabs, who call all Egypt, as well as Cairo, Musr or Misr.’ (Wilkinson’s “Ancient Egyptians,” vol. i. p. 2). The origin of the name ‘Egypt’ is unknown. Egyptus is said by some to have been an ancient king of this country.
Behold, the Lord - This is a bold introduction. Yahweh is seen advancing to Egypt for the purpose of confounding its idols, and inflicting punishment. The leading idea which the prophet wishes probably to present is, that national calamities - anarchy, commotion, revolution, as well as physical sufferings - are under the government and direction of Yahweh.
Rideth upon a swift cloud - Yahweh is often thus represented as riding on a cloud, especially when he comes for purposes of vengeance or punishment:
And he rode upon a cherub and did fly,
Yea, he did fly upon the wings of the wind.
Who maketh the clouds his chariot,
Who walketh upon the wings of the wind.
‘I saw in the night visions, and behold, one like the Son of Man came with the clouds of heaven’ Daniel 7:13. So the Saviour is represented as coming to judgment in the clouds of heaven Matthew 24:30. Compare the sublime description in Habakkuk 3:3-10.
And the idols of Egypt - It is well known that Egypt was celebrated for its idolatry. They worshipped chiefly the heavenly bodies; but they worshipped also all kinds of animals, probably as living symbols of their gods. “Shall be moved.” That is, shall tremble, be agitated, alarmed; or shall be removed from their place, and overthrown. The word will bear either construction. Vitringa inclines to the latter.
And the heart of Egypt - The strength; the courage; the rigor. We use the word “heart” in the same sense now, when we speak of a stout heart; a courageous heart, etc.
Shall melt - The word used here denotes “to dissolve;” and is applied to the heart when its courage fails - probably from the sensation of weakness or fainting. The fact alluded to here was probably the disheartening circumstances that attended the civil commotions in Egypt, when the people felt themselves oppressed by cruel rulers. See the Analysis of the chapter.
And I will set - (סכסכתי sı̂ksaketı̂y). This word (from סכך sākak) means properly “to cover,” to spread over, to hide, conceal, to protect. Another signification of the verb is, to weave, to intermingle. It may mean here, ‘I will arm the Egyptians against each other’ (Gesenius); or, as in our version, ‘I will mingle, confound, or throw them into discord and strife.’ The Septuagint renders it, Ἐπεγερθήσονται Epegerthēsontai - ‘They shall be excited,’ or, ‘raised up.’ Symmachus, Συμβαλῶ Sumbalō. Syriac and Chaldee, ‘I will excite.’ The sense is, that there would be discord and civil war, and this is traced to the agency or overruling providence of God - meaning that he would “permit and overrule” it. Compare the notes at Isaiah 45:7 : ‘I make peace, and I create evil; I, Yahweh, do all these things;’ Amos 3:6 : ‘Shall there be evil in a city and Jehovah hath not done it?’ The civil war here referred to was probably that which arose between the twelve kings in the time of the dodekarchy (see the Analysis to the chapter), and which resulted in the single dominion of Psammetichus. Dr. Newton (“On the Prophecies,” xii.) supposes, however, that the prophet refers to the civil wars between Apries and Amasis at the time of the invasion by Nebuchadnezzar. But it agrees much better with the former discord than with this. The description which follows is that of anarchy or civil strife, where “many” parties are formed, and would naturally lead to the supposition that there were more than two engaged.
And kingdom against kingdom - Septuagint, Νόμος έπὶ νόμων Nomos epi nomōn - ‘Nome against nomes.’ Egypt was formerly divided into forty-two “nomes” or districts. The version by the Septuagint was made in Egypt, and the translators would naturally employ the terms which were in common use. Still the event referred to was probably not that of one “nome” contending against another, but a civil war in which one dynasty would be excited against another (Gesenius), or when there would be anarchy and strife among the different members of the dodekarchy. See the Analysis of the chapter.
And the spirit of Egypt - (see Isaiah 19:1). They shall be exhausted with their long internal contentions and strifes; and seeing no prospect of deliverance, and anxious that the turmoils should end, they shall seek counsel and refuge in their gods and necromancers, but in vain.
Shall fail - (נבקה nâbeqâh). Margin, ‘Be emptied.’ The word means, literally, “to pour out, empty, depopulate.” Here it means that they would become disheartened and discouraged.
And I will destroy - Margin, as the Hebrew, ‘I will swallow up.’ So the word is used in Psalms 107:27, ‘All their wisdom is destroyed’ (Hebrew, ‘swallowed up. ‘)
And they shall seek to the idols - According to Herodotus (ii. 152), Psammetichus had consulted the oracle of Latona at Butos, and received for answer that the sea should avenge his cause by producing brazen men. Some time after, a body of Ionians and Carians were compelled by stress of weather to touch at Egypt, and landed there, clad in brass armor. Some Egyptians, alarmed at their appearance, came to Psammetichus, and described them as brazen men who had risen from the sea, and were plundering the country. He instantly supposed that this was the accomplishment of the oracle, and entered into an alliance with the strangers, and by their aid was enabled to obtain the victory over his foes. Compare the different accounts of Diodorus in the Analysis of this chapter. The whole history of Egypt shows how much they were accustomed to consult their idols (see Herodot. ii. 54ff, 82, 83, 139, 152). Herodotus says (ii. 83), that the art of divination in Egypt was confined to certain of their deities. There were in that country the oracles of Hercules, of Apollo, of Mars, of Diana, and of Jupiter; but the oracle of Latona in Butos was held in greater veneration than any of the rest.
And to the charmers - (אטים 'ı̂ṭı̂ym). This word occurs nowhere else. The root אטט 'âṭaṭ, in Arabic, means “to mutter, to make a gentle noise;” and this word probably denotes conjurors, diviners (see the note at Isaiah 8:19). The Septuagint renders it, ‘Their idols.’
And to them that have familiar spirits - (see the note at Isaiah 8:19). The Septuagint renders this, ‘Those who speak from the ground.’
And to the wizards - Septuagint - Ἐγγαστριμύθους Engastrimuthous - ‘Ventriloquists.’ The Hebrew word means a wise man, a soothsayer, a magician (ידענים yı̂dı̂‛onı̂ym from ידע yâda‛ “to know;” see Leviticus 19:31; Leviticus 20:6; Deuteronomy 18:11). This fake science abounded in Egypt, and in most Oriental countries.
And the Egyptians - The Egyptian nation; the entire people, though divided into factions and contending with each other.
Will I give over - Margin, ‘Shut up.’ The Hebrew word (סכר sākar) usually has the sense of shutting up, or closing. Here it means that these contentions would be “closed” or concluded by their being delivered to of a single master. The Septuagint renders it, Παραδώσω Paradōsō - ‘I will surrender.’
Into the hands of a cruel lord - Hebrew, ‘Lords of cruelty, or severity.’ The word rendered ‘lord,’ meaning master, is in the Hebrew in the plural number (אדנים 'ădônı̂y). It is, however, generally supposed that it is pluralis excellentiae - denoting majesty and dignity, and applicable to a “single” monarch. The connection requires this, for the state here described would be different from that where “many” rule, and it seems to suppose that “one” should succeed to the many who had been contending. In the parallel member, also, a name in the singular number is used - ‘a fierce king;’ and as this evidently denotes the same, it follows that the word here is used to denote a single monarch. The plural form is often thus used in the Hebrew (see Psalms 7:10; Ezekiel 29:3; Hosea 12:1). God here claims jurisdiction over the nation, and says that “he” will do it - a most striking illustration of the power which he asserts over contending people to deliver them to whomsoever he will.
Dr. Newton supposes that this was Nebuchadnezzar, or more properly Cambyses, by whom Egypt was made subject to the authority of Persia, and who was eminently a cruel man, a madman. But the more probable interpretation is that which refers it to Psammetichus. twelve kings were in contention, of whom he was one. He called in the aid of the Arabians, the pirates of Caria and Iona (Herodot. ii. 152; see the Analysis of the chapter; Diod. i. 66). This was in the twentieth year of the reign of Manasseh. Psammetichus reigned fifty-four years and was succeeded by Nechus his son, called in Scripture Pharaoh-Necho, and often mentioned under that name. Psammetichus, during a considerable part of his reign, was engaged in wars with Assyria and Palestine. He is here called a ‘cruel lord;’ that is, an oppressive monarch, probably because he secured the kingdom by bringing in to his aid foreign mercenaries - robbers and pirates, and because his wars made his government oppressive and burdensome.
A fierce king - Hebrew, ‘A king of strength’ - a description particularly applicable to one who, like Psammetichus, had subdued eleven rivals, and who had obtained the kingdom by conquest.
And the waters shall fail - Here commences a description of the “physical” calamities that would come upon the land, which continues to Isaiah 19:10. The previous verses contained an account of the national calamities by civil wars. It may be observed that discord, anarchy, and civil wars, are often connected with physical calamities; as famine, drought, pestilence. God has the elements, as well as the hearts of people, under his control; and when he chastises a nation, he often mingles anarchy, famine, discord, and the pestilence together. Often, too, civil wars have a “tendency” to produce these calamities. They annihilate industry, arrest enterprise, break up plans of commerce, and divert the attention of people from the cultivation of the soil. This might have been in part the case in Egypt; but it would seem also that God, by direct agency, intended to afflict them by drying up their streams in a remarkable manner.
From the sea - The parallelism here, as well as the whole scope of the passage, requires us to understand this of the Nile. The word ים yâm is sometimes used to denote a large river (see the notes at Isaiah 11:15; Isaiah 18:2). The Nile is often called a sea. Thus Pliny (“Nat. Hist.” ii. 35) says, ‘The water of the Nile resembles the sea.’ Thus, Seneca (“Quaest. Nat.” v. 2) says, ‘By continued accessions of water, it stagnates (stagnat) into the appearance of a broad and turbid sea.’ Compare Herodot. ii. 97; Diod. i. 12, 96; ‘To this day in Egypt, the Nile is el-Bahr, “the sea,” as its most common appellation.’ ‘Our Egyptian servant,’ says Dr. Robinson, ‘who spoke English, always called it “the sea.”’ (“Bib. Rescarches,” vol. i. 542).
And the river - The Nile.
Shall be wasted - This does not mean “entirely,” but its waters would fail so as to injure the country. It would not “overflow” in its accustomed manner, and the consequence would be, that the land would be desolate. It is well known that Egypt derives its great fertility entirely from the overflowing of the Nile. So important is this, that a public record is made at Cairo of the daily rise of the water. When the Nile rises to a less height than twelve cubits, a famine is the inevitable consequence, for then the water does not overflow the land. When it rises to a greater height than sixteen cubits, a famine is almost as certain - for then the superabundant waters are not drained off soon enough to allow them to sow the seed. The height of the inundation, therefore, that is necessary in order to insure a harvest, is from twelve to sixteen cubits. The annual overflow is in the month of August. The prophet here means that the Nile would not rise to the height that was desirable - or the waters should “fail” - and that the consequence would be a famine.
And they shall turn the rivers far away - (האזיּחוּ he'ezenı̂ychû), probably from זנח zânach, “to have an offensive smell; to be rancid, or putrid.” The word in this form occurs nowhere else. It is in the Hiphil conjugation, and is probably a form made from a mixture with the Chaldee. The sense is not doubtful. It means ‘the rivers shall become putrid - or have an offensive smell;’ that is, shall become stagnant, and send forth unwholesome “miasmata” producing sickness, as stagnant waters often do. The Vulgate renders it, ‘And the rivers shall fail.’ The Septuagint, ‘And the Egyptians shall drink the waters from the sea, but the river shall fail, and be dried up, and the rivers shall fail, and the streams (διὼρυχες diōruches) of the river, and all the assembling (συναγωγή sunagōgē) waters shall be dried up.’
And the brooks of defense - Hebrew, ‘The rivers of מצור mâtsôr. The word מצור mâtsôr often means “straitness, affliction;” then a siege, a wall, a bulwark, a fortification. But, probably, it here means “Egypt,” or the same as מצרים mı̂tserayı̂m (compare Isaiah 37:25; 2 Kings 18:24; Mark 7:12). Perhaps the Hebrews may have thought of Egypt as a strongly fortified place, and thus have given the name to it; or possibly this may have been a modification of the name “Mitsraim.”
The reeds and flags - Which grew on the banks of the Nile - the papyrus, etc. (see the note at Isaiah 18:2)
The paper reeds - (ערות ‛ârôt). This is not the word which occurs in Isaiah 18:2, and which, it is supposed, means there the papyrus (see the note on that place). Interpreters have been divided in regard to the meaning of the word here. Gesenius derives it from ערה ‛ârâh, “to be naked, open, bare;” and supposes that it means an open place, a place naked of wood, and that it here denotes the pastures on the banks of the Nile. So Rosenmuller interprets it of the green pastures on the banks of the Nile; and the Hebrew commentators generally so understand it. The Vulgate renders it, ‘And the bed (alveus) of the river shall be dried up from the fountain.’ So the Chaldee, ‘And their streams shall be desolate.’ It probably denotes, not paper reeds, but the green pastures that were beside the brooks, or along the banks of the Nile.
By the brooks - Hebrew, ‘Rivers’ (יארי ye'orēy). By the ‘brooks’ here, in the plural number, the prophet probably means the artificial canals which were cut in every direction from the Nile for the purpose of conveying the waters to various parts of the land.
By the mouth of the brooks - At the mouth of the canals, or where they emptied into the Nile. Such meadows, being “near” the Nile, and most sure of a supply of water, would be more valuable than those which were remote, and are, therefore, particularly specified.
Shall wither ... - That is, there shall be utter and entire desolation. If the Nile ceased to overflow; if the streams, reservoirs, and canals, could not be filled, this would follow as a matter of course. Everything would dry up.
The fishers also - In this verse, and the two following, the prophet describes the calamities that would come upon various classes of the inhabitants, as the consequence of the failing of the waters of the Nile. The first class which he mentions are the fishermen. Egypt is mentioned Numbers 11:5, as producing great quantities of fish. ‘We remember the fish which we did eat in Eypt freely.’ ‘The Nile,’ says Diodorus (i.), ‘abounds with incredible numbers of all sorts of fish.’ The same was true of the artificial canals, and lakes, and reservoirs of water Isaiah 19:10. Herodotus (ii. 93) says that large quantities of fish were produced in the Nile: ‘At the season of spawning,’ says he, ‘they move in vast multitudes toward the sea. As soon as that season is over they leave the sea, return up the river, and endeavor to regain their accustomed haunts.’ As a specimen of his “credulity,” however, and also of the attention which he bestowed on natural history, the reader may consult the passage here referred to in regard to the mode of their propagation.
He also says that it is observed of the fish that are taken in their passage to the sea, that they have ‘the left part of their heads depressed.’ Of those that are taken on their return, the “right” side of the head is found to be depressed. This he accounts for by observing, that ‘the cause of this is obvious: as they pass to the sea they rub themselves on the banks on the left side; as they return they keep closely to the same bank, and, in both instances, press against it, that they may not be obliged to deviate from their course by the current of the stream.’ Speaking of the Lake Moeris, Herodotus says, that ‘for six months the lake empties itself into the Nile, and the remaining six, the Nile supplies the lake. During the six months in which the waters ebb, the fishing which is here carried on furnishes the royal treasury with a talent of silver (about 180) every day’ (ii. 149). ‘The silver which the fishery of this lake produced, was appropriated to find the queen with clothes and perfumes.’ (Diod. i. 52.) The Lake Moeris is now farmed for 30 purses (about 193) annually.
Michaud says that the Lake Menzaleh now yields an annual revenue of 800 purses,’ about 5364. ‘The great abundance of fish produced in the Nile was an invaluable provision of nature, in a country which had neither extended pasture grounds, nor large herds of cattle, and where grain was the principal production. When the Nile inundated the country, and filled the lakes and canals with its overflowing waters, these precious gifts were extended to the most remote villages in the interior of the valley, and the plentiful supply of fish which they obtained was an additional benefit conferred upon them at this season of the year.’ (Wilkinson’s “Ancient Egyptians,” vol. iii. pp. 62, 63.) Hence, the greatness of the calamity here referred to by the prophet when the lakes and canals should be dried up. The whole country would feel it.
And all they that cast angle - Two kinds of fishermen are mentioned - those who used a hook, and those who used the net. The former would fish mainly in the “brooks” or canals that were cut from the Nile to water their lands. For the various methods of fishing, illustrated by drawings, the reader may consult Wilklnson’s “Ancient Egyptians,” vol. ii. p. 21; vol. iii. p. 53ff.
Moreover - In addition to the calamities that will come upon the fishermen, the drying up of the river will affect all who are supported by that which the overflowing of its waters produced.
They that work in short flax - Egypt was celebrated anciently for producing flax in large quantities, and of a superior quality (see Exodus 9:31; 1 Kings 10:28). The fine linen of Egypt which was manufactured from this is celebrated in Scripture Proverbs 7:16; Ezekiel 27:7. The Egyptians had early carried the art of manufacturing linen to a great degree of perfection. As early as the exode of the Hebrews, we find that the art was known by which stuffs made of linen or other materials were curiously worked and embroidered. ‘And thou shalt make an hanging for the door of the tent, of blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine-twined linen, made with needlework’ (Exodus 26:36; compare Exodus 27:16; Exodus 36:37). So Ezekiel 27:7 : ‘Fine linen, with broidered work from Egypt.’ So also Martial refers to embroidery with the needle in Egypt:
Haec tibi Memphitis tellus dat munera; victa est
Pectine Niliaco jam Babylonis acus.
Martial, xiv. Ep. 50.
In regard to the “fineness” of the linen which was produced and made in Egypt, we may introduce a statement made by Pliny when speaking of the “nets” which were made there. ‘So delicate,’ says he, ‘were some of them, that they would pass through a man’s ring, and a single person could carry a sufficient number of them to surround a whole wood. Julius Lupus, who died while governor of Egypt, had some of those nets, each string of which consisted of 150 threads; a fact perfectly surprising to those who are not aware that the Rhodians preserve to this day, in the temple of Minerva, the remains of a linen corslet, presented to them by Amasis, king of Egypt, whose threads are composed each of 365 fibres.’ (Pliny, xix. 1.) Herodotus also mentions this corslet (iii. 47), and also another presented by Amasis to the Lacedemonians, which had been carried off by the Samians: ‘It was of linen, ornamented with numerous figures of animals, worked in gold and cotton.
Each thread of the corslet was worthy of admiration. For though very fine, every one was composed of 360 other threads, all distinct; the quality being similar to that dedicated to Minerva at Lindus, by the same monarch.’ Pliny (xix. 1) mentions four kinds of linen that were particularly celebrated in Egypt - the Tanitic, the Pelusiac, the Butine, and the tentyritic. He also says that the quantity of flax cultivated in Egypt was accounted for, by their exporting linen to Arabia and India. It is now known, also, that the cloth used for enveloping the dead, and which is now found in abundance on the mummies, was “linen.” This fact was long doubted, and it was until recently supposed by many that the cloth was made of cotton. This fact that it is linen was settled beyond dispute by some accurate experiments made by Dr. Ure, Mr. Bauer, and Mr. Thompson, with the aid of powerful microscopes.
It was found that linen fibres uniformly present a cylindrical form, transparent, and articulated, or jointed like a cane, while the fibres of cotton have the appearance of a flat ribbon, with a hem or border at the edge. In the mummy cloths, it was found, without exception, that the fibres were linen. Vast quantities of linen must, therefore, have been used. The linen of the mummy cloths is generally coarse. The warp usually contains about 90 threads in the inch; the woof about 44. Occasionally, however, very fine linen cloth is found, showing the skill with which the manufacture was executed. Sir John G. Wilkinson observes, that a piece of linen in his possession from Egypt had 540 (or 270 double) threads in one inch in the warp. Some of the cambric which is now manufactured has but 160 threads in the inch in the warp, and 140 in the woof. It is to be remembered, also, that the linen in Egypt was spun by hand, and without the aid of machinery (see, on this whole subject, Wilkinson’s “Ancient Egyptians,” vol. iii. pp. 113-142. Ed. Lond. 1837). The word rendered ‘fine’ here denotes, according to Gesenius, “combed or hatchelled.” The word ‘fine,’ however, expresses the idea with sufficient accuracy. Fine linen was used for clothing; but was so expensive that it was worn chiefly by the rich and by princes Luke 16:19.
They that weave networks - Margin, ‘White-works.’ According to Gesenius the word הורי hôrây means “white linen” - that which is fully bleached. The word הוד hôd means “a hole or cavern,” but is not applied to cloth. The parallelism seems rather to require that the word should mean ‘white,’ or that which would correspond to ‘fine,’ or valuable; and it is not known that the Egyptians had the art of working lace from linen. Saadias supposes that “nets” are meant, as being made with holes or meshes; but it is evident that a finer work is intended than that.
Shall be confounded - Hebrew, ‘Shall be ashamed.’ That is, they shall be thrown out of employment, and not know what to do.
And they shall be broken - There has been a great variety of opinion in regard to the interpretation of this verse, and much difficulty in the construction of the Hebrew words. The Vulgate renders it, ‘And its wet places shall fail; all who make ponds to take fish.’ The Septuagint, ‘And all who make beer (ζύθον zuthon) shall lament, and shall afflict their souls.’ This ζύθον zuthon was a sort of malt liquor made of fruits by fermentation, and was used in Egypt in the place of wine, since the grape did not flourish there. Jerome on this place says, that this was much used also in Dalmatia and Pannonia, and was commonly called “Sabaium.” The Chaldee renders this, ‘And the place where they weave cloth shall be trodden down, and the place where they make fish ponds, and where they collect waters, each one for his own life.’ This variety of reading arises chiefly from the different modes of “pointing” the Hebrew words.
The word rendered ‘broken’ (מדכאים medâkâ'iym) means “trodden down,” from דכא dâkâ' “to tread, or trample down,” and agrees in the Hebrew with the word rendered ‘purposes - the proposes shall be trodden down.’ The word ‘purposes’ (שׁתתיה shâtoteyhâ) is found only in the plural, and is translated in Psalms 11:3, ‘foundations,’ from שׁית shiyth, “foundation or pillar.” According to this, it would mean that all “the pillars or foundations, that is, probably all the “nobles” of Egypt, would be trodden down. But this does not well suit the connection. Others derive it from שׁתה shâtâh, “to drink;” and suppose that it means that which is prepared for drink shall be trodden down or destroyed. Others suppose that it is derived from שׁתה shâtâh, “to weave,” and that it refers to the places where they wove the cloth, that is, their looms; or to the places where they made their nets. And others suppose that it is not the “places” where they wove which are intended, but the “weavers themselves.” Forerius supposes it to be derived from שׁתת shâthath, “to place, lay,” and that it refers to the “banks or dykes” that were made to retain the waters in the canals, and that these would be trodden down. This, it seems to me, is the most probable interpretation, as it suits the connection, and agrees with the derivation of the word. But the meaning cannot be certainly ascertained.
All that make sluices - There has been quite as great a variety in the intepretation of this passage as in the former. The word rendered ‘sluices’ (שׂכר s'eker), our translators understand in the sense of places where the water would be retained for fish ponds - made by artificial banks confining the waters that overflow from the Nile. This sense they have given to the word, as if it were derived from סכר sâkar, “to shut up, to enclose.” The Septuagint reads it as if it meant the Hebrew שׁכר shêkār, or strong drink; and so also the Syriac renders it - as if from שׁכר shēkâr, “to drink.” There is no doubt that by a difference of pointing it may have this signification. But the most probable interpretation, perhaps, is that which derives it from שׂכר s'âkar, “to hire,” and means that they made those places for reward, or for gain. They thus tolled for hire; and the prophet says, that they who thus made enclosures for fish in order to make a livelihood, would be trodden down - that is, they would fail of their purposes.
Ponds for fish - The word rendered ‘fish’ (נפשׁ nephesh), denotes properly any living thing (“see the margin”), but if the usual interpretation is given of this verse, it is evident that fish are intended. The description, therefore, in this entire passage, from verse fifth to verse tenth, is designed to denote the calamities which would come upon Egypt from the failure of the waters of the Nile; and the slightest knowledge of the importance of the Nile to that country will show that all these calamities would follow from such a failure.
Surely the princes - The following verses, to Isaiah 19:16, are designed to describe further the calamities that were coming upon Egypt by a want of wisdom in their rulers. They would be unable to devise means to meet the impending calamities, and would actually increase the national misery by their unwise counsels. The word ‘princes’ here is taken evidently for the rulers or counselors of state.
Of Zoan - The Vulgate, Septuagint, and Chaldee, render this ‘Tanis.’ Zoan was doubtless the Tans of the Greeks (Herod. ii. 166), and was a city of Lower Egypt, built, according to Moses Numbers 13:22, seven years after Hebron. It is mentioned in Psalms 78:12; Isaiah 19:11, Isaiah 19:13; Isaiah 30:4; Ezekiel 30:14. It was at the entrance of the Tanitic mouth of the Nile, and gave name to it. Its ruins still exist, and there are seen there at present numerous blocks of granite, seven obelisks of granite, and a statue of Isis. It was the capital of the dynasty of the Tanitish kings until the time of Psammetichus; it was at this place principally that the miracles done by Moses were performed. ‘Marvellous things did he in the sight of their fathers in the land of Egypt; in the field of Zoan’ Psalms 78:12. Its ruins are still called “San,” a slight change of the word Zoan. The Ostium Taniticum is now the “Omm Faredje.”
Are fools - They are unable to meet by their counsels the impending calamities. Perhaps their folly was evinced by their flattering their sovereign, and by exciting him to plans that tended to the ruin, rather than the welfare of the kingdom.
The wise counselors of Pharaoh - Pharaoh was the common name of the kings of Egypt in the same way as “Caesar” became afterward the common name of the Roman emperors - and the king who is here intended by Pharaoh is probably Psammetichus (see the note at Isaiah 19:4).
How say ye ... - Why do you “flatter” the monarch? Why remind him of his ancestry? Why attempt to inflate him with the conception of his own wisdom? This was, and is, the common practice of courtiers; and in this way kings are often led to measures most ruinous to their subjects.
Where are they? - This whole verse is an appeal by the prophet to the king of Egypt respecting the counselors and soothsayers of his kingdom. The sense is, ‘a time of distress and danger is evidently coming upon Egypt. They pretend to be wise; and there is now occasion for all their wisdom, and opportunity to evince it. Let them show it. Let them declare what is coming upon the nation, and take proper measures to meet and remove it; and they will then demonstrate that it would be proper for Pharaoh to repose confidence in them.’ But if they could not do this, then he should not suffer himself to be deluded, and his kingdom ruined, by their counsels.
The princes of Zoan - (the note at Isaiah 19:11). This “repetition” is intensive and emphatic, and shows the deep conviction of the prophet of their folly. The design is to show that “all” the counselors on which the Egyptians depended were fools.
The princes of Noph - The Vulgate, the Septuagint, and the Chaldee, render this ‘Memphis,’ and there is no doubt that this is the city intended. The name Memphis may have easily arisen from Noph. It was written also “Moph,” and hence, Memphis. It is called “Menouf” by the Copts and Arabians. According to Plutarch, the name Memphis means “the port of the good.” The situation of Memphis has been a subject of considerable dispute, and has afforded matter for long and laborious investigation. Sicard and Shaw fix its site at Djezeh or Ghizeh, opposite to old Cairo. Pococke, D’Anville, Niebuhr, and other writers and travelers, place Memphis more in the direction of Mitraheny, about fifteen miles further south, on the banks of the Nile, at the entrance of the plain of the mummies, at the north of which the pyramids are placed. It was the residence of the ancient kings of Egypt until the time of the Ptolemies, who commonly resided at Alexandria. Memphis retained its splendor until it was conquered by the Arabians, about 641 a.d. At the supposed site of Memphis south of Ghizeh, there are large mounds of rubbish, a colossal statue sunk in the ground, and a few fragments of granite, which remain to test the existence of this renowned capital. In Strabo’s time, although partly in ruins, it was yet a populous city, second only to Alexandria. The total disappearance of the ancient edifices of Memphis is easily accounted for by the circumstance, that the materials were employed for the building of adjacent cities. Fostal rose out of the ruins, and when that city was again deserted, these ruins migrated again to the more modern Cairo (see Robinson’s “Bib. Researches,” vol. i. p. 40).
They have also seduced Egypt - That is, they have by their counsels caused it to err, and have led it into its present embarrassment.
The stay ... - Hebrew, פנה pinnâh - the “corner; that is, those who should have been the support. So the word is used to denote the head or leader of a people in Judges 20:2, Jdg 20:14; 1 Samuel 14:38; Psalms 118:22; Isaiah 28:16; Zechariah 10:4.
The Lord hath mingled - The word מסך mâsak, “to mingle,” is used commonly to denote the act of mixing spices with wine to make it more intoxicating Proverbs 9:2, Proverbs 9:5; Isaiah 5:22. Here it means that Yahweh has poured out into the midst of them a spirit of giddiness; that is, has produced consternation among them. National commotions and calamities are often thus traced to the overruling providence of God (see the note at Isaiah 19:2; compare Isaiah 10:5-6).
A perverse spirit - Hebrew, ‘A spirit of perverseness.’ The word rendered ‘perverse’ is derived from עוה ‛âvâh, “to be crooked or perverted.” Here it means, that their counsels were unwise, land such as tended to error and ruin.
To err as a drunken man ... - This is a very striking figure. The whole nation was reeling to and fro, and unsettled in their counsels, as a man is who is so intoxicated as to reel and to vomit. Nothing could more strikingly express, first, the “fact” of their perverted counsels and plans, and secondly, God’s deep abhorrence of the course which they were pursuing.
Neither shall there be any work - The sense is, that there shall be such discord that no man, whether a prince, a politician, or a priest, shall be able to give any advice, or form any plan for the national safety and security, which shall be successful.
Which the head or tail - High or low; strong or weak: those in office and those out of office; all shall be dispirited and confounded. Rosenmuller understands by the head here, the “political” orders of the nation, and by the tail the “sacerdotal” ranks. But the meaning more probably is, the highest and the lowest ranks - all the politicians, and priests, and princes, on the one hand, as the prophet had just stated Isaiah 19:11-15; and all the artificers, fishermen, etc., on the other, as he had stated Isaiah 19:8-10. This verse, therefore, is a “summing up” of all he had said about the calamities that were coming upon them.
Branch or rush - See these words explained in the note at Isaiah 9:14.
In that day shall Egypt be like unto women - Timid; fearful; alarmed. The Hebrews often, by this comparison, express great fear and consternation Jeremiah 51:30; Nahum 3:13.
Because of the shaking of the hand - The shaking of the hand is an indication of threatening or punishment (note, Isaiah 10:32; Isaiah 11:15).
And the land of Judah - The fear and consternation of Egypt shall be increased when they learn what events are occurring there, and what Yahweh has purposed in regard to it.
Shall be a terror - This cannot be understood to mean that they were in danger from an invasion by the Jews, for at that time they were not at war, and Judah had no power to overrun Egypt. Jarchi and Kimchi suppose that the passage means that the Egyptians would hear what had occurred to the army of Sennacherib on its overthrow, and that they would be alarmed as if a similar fate was about to come upon them. But the more probable interpretation is that which refers it to the “invasion” of Judah by Sennacherib. The Egyptians would know of that. Indeed, the leading design of Sennacherib was to invade Egypt, and Judah and Jerusalem were to be destroyed only “in the way” to Egypt. And when the Egyptians heard of the great preparations of Sennacherib, and of his advance upon Judah (see Isaiah 10:28-31), and knew that his design was to invade them, ‘the land of Judah’ would be ‘a terror,’ because they apprehended that he would make a rapid descent upon them. Vitringa, however, supposes that the sense is, that the Egyptians in their calamities would remember the prophecies of Jeremiah and others, of which they had heard, respecting their punishment; that they would remember that the prophecies respecting Judah had been fulfilled, and that thus Judah would be a terror to them “because” those predictions had come out of Judah. This is plausible, and it may be the correct explanation.
Which he hath determined against it - Either against Judah, or Egypt. The Hebrew will bear either. It may mean that they were alarmed at the counsel which had been formed by Yahweh against Judah, and which was apparently about to be executed by the invasion of Sennacherib, and that thus they feared an invasion themselves, or that they learned that a purpose of destruction was formed by Yahweh against themselves, and that Judah became thus an object of terror, because the prophecies which were spoken there were certain of being fulfilled. The latter is the interpretation given by Vitringa, and perhaps is the moss probable.
In that day - The word ‘day’ is used in Scripture in a large signification, “as including the whole period under consideration,” or the whole time that is embraced in the scope of a prophecy. In this chapter it is used in this sense; and evidently means that the event here foretold would take place “somewhere” in the period that is embraced in the design of the prophecy. That is, the event recorded in this verse would occur in the series of events that the prophet saw respecting Egypt (see Isaiah 4:1). The sense is, that somewhere in the general time here designated Isaiah 19:4-17, the event here described would take place. There would be an extensive fear of Yahweh, and an extensive embracing of the true religion, in the land of Egypt.
Shall five cities - The number ‘five’ here is evidently used to denote an “indefinite” number, in the same way as ‘seven’ is often used in the Scriptures (see Leviticus 26:8). It means, that several cities in Egypt would use that language, one of which only is specified.
The language of Canaan - Margin, ‘Lip of Canaan.’ So the Hebrew; but the word often means ‘language.’ The language of Canaan evidently means the “Hebrew” language; and it is called ‘the language of Canaan’ either because it was spoken by the original inhabitants of the land of Canaan, or more probably because it was used by the Hebrews who occupied Canaan as the promised land; and then it will mean the language spoken in the land of Canaan. The phrase used here is employed probably to denote that they would be converted to the Jewish religion; or that the religion of the Jews would flourish there. A similar expression, to denote conversion to the true God, occurs in Zephaniah 3:9 : ‘For there I will turn to the people a pure language, that they may call upon the name of the Lord, to serve him with one consent.’
And swear to the Lord of hosts - That is, they shall “devote” themselves to him; or they shall bind themselves to his service by solemn covenant; compare Deuteronomy 10:20; Isaiah 45:20, where conversion to God, and a purpose to serve him, is expressed in the same manner by “swearing” to him, that is, by solemnly devoting themselves to his service.
One shall be called - The name of one of them shall be, etc. Why “one” particularly is designated is not known.
The city of destruction - There has been a great variety of interpretation in regard to this expression. Margin, ‘Heres,’ or, ‘The sun.’ The Vulgate, ‘The city of the sun;’ evidently meaning Heliopolis. The Septuagint Ασεδέκ Asedik - ‘The city Asedek.’ The Chaldee, ‘The city of the house of the sun (שׁמשׁ בית bēyith shemesh), which is to be destroyed.’ The Syriac, ‘The city of Heres.’ The common reading of the Hebrew text is, ההרס עיר 'iyr haheres. This reading is found in most MS. editions and versions. The word הרס heres commonly means “destruction,” though it may also mean “deliverance;” and Gesenius supposes the name was to be given to it because it was to be a “delivered” city; that is, it would be the city to which ‘the saviour’ mentioned in Isaiah 19:20, would come, and which he would make his capital. Ikenius contends that the word ‘Heres’ is taken from the Arabic, and that the name is the same as Leontopolis - ‘The city of the lion,’ a city in Egypt. But besides other objections which may be made to this interpretation, the signification of “lion” is not given to the word in the Hebrew language.
The common reading is that which occurs in the text - the city of “Heres.” But another reading (החרס hacheres) is found in sixteen manuscripts, and has been copied in the Complutensian Polyglot. This word ( חרס cheres) properly means the “sun,” and the phrase means the city of the sun; that is, Heliopolis. Onias, who was disappointed in obtaining the high priesthood (149 b.c.) on the death of his uncle Menelaus, fled into Egypt, and ingratiated himself into the favor of Ptolemy Philometer and Cleopatra, and was advanced to the highest rank in the army and the court, and made use of his influence to obtain permission to build a temple in Egypt like that at Jerusalem, with a grant that he and his descendants should always have a right to officiate in it as high priests. In order to obtain this, he alleged that it would be for the interest of Egypt, by inducing many Jews to come and reside there, and that their going annually to Jerusalem to attend the great feasts would expose them to alienation from the Egyptians, to join the Syrian interest (“see” Prideaux’s “Connection,” under the year 149 b.c. Josephus expressly tells us (“Ant.” xiii. 3. 1-3), that in order to obtain this layout, he urged that it had been predicted by Isaiah six hundred years before, and that in consequence of this, Ptolemy granted him permission to build the temple, and that it was built at Leontopolis. It resembled that at Jerusalem, but was smaller and less splendid. It was within the Nomos or prefecture of Heliopolis, at the distance of twenty-four miles from Memphis. Onias pretended that the very place was foretold by Isaiah; and this would seem to suppose that the ancient reading was that of ‘the city of the sun.’ He urged this prediction in order to reconcile the Jews to the idea of another temple besides that at Jerusalem, because a temple erected in Egypt would be an object of disapprobation to the Jews in Palestine. Perhaps for the same reason the translation of Isaiah in the Septuagint renders this, Ἀσεδέκ Asedek - ‘The city of Asedek,’ as if the original were צדקה tsedâqâh - ‘The city of righteousness’ - that is, a city where righteousness dwells; or a city which was approved by God. But this is manifestly a corruption of the Hebrew text.
It may be proper to remark that the change in the Hebrew between the word rendered ‘destruction’ (הרס heres), and the word ‘sun’ (חרס cheres), is a change of a single letter where one might be easily mistaken for the other - the change of the Hebrew letter ה (h) into the Hebrew letter ח (ch). This might have occurred by the error of a transcriber, though the circumstances would lead us to think it not improbable that it “may” have been made designedly, but by whom is unknown. It “may” have been originally as Onias pretended and have been subsequently altered by the Jews to counteract the authority which he urged for building a temple in Egypt; but there is no certain evidence of it. The evidence from MSS. is greatly in favor of the reading as in our translation (הרס heres), and this may be rendered either ‘destruction,’ or more probably, according to Gesenius, ‘deliverance,’ so called from the “deliverance” that would be brought to it by the promised saviour Isaiah 19:20.
It may be added, that there is no evidence that Isaiah meant to designate the city where Onias built the temple, but merely to predict that many cities in Egypt would be converted, one of which would be the one here designated. Onias took “advantage” of this, and made an artful use of it, but it was manifestly not the design of Isaiah. Which is the true reading of the passage it is impossible now to determine; nor is it important. I think the most probable interpretation is that which supposes that Isaiah meant to refer to a city saved from destruction, as mentioned in Isaiah 19:20, and that he did not design to designate any particular city by name. The city of Heliopolis was situated on the Pelusian branch of the Nile, about five miles below the point of the ancient Delta. It was deserted in the time of Strabo; and this geographer mentions its mounds of ruin, but the houses were shown in which Eudoxus and Plato had studied.
The place was celebrated for its learning, and its temple dedicated to the sun. There are now no ruins of ancient buildings, unless the mounds can be regarded as such; the walls, however, can still be traced, and there is an entire obelisk still standing. This obelisk is of red granite, about seventy feet high, and from its great antiquity has excited much attention among the learned. In the neighboring villages there are many fragments which have been evidently transferred from this city. Dr. Robinson who visited it, says, that ‘the site about two hours N. N. E. from Cairo. The way thither passes along the edge of the desert, which is continually making encroachments, so soon as then ceases to be a supply of water for the surface of the ground. The site of Heliopolis is marked by low mounds, enclosing a space about three quarters of a mile in length, by half a mile in breadth, which was once occupied by houses, and partly by the celebrated temple of the sun. This area is now a plowed field, a garden of herbs; and the solitary obelisk which rises in the midst is the sole remnant of the splendor of the place. Near by it is a very old sycamore, its trunk straggling and gnarled, under which legendary tradition relates that the holy family once. rested.’ (“Bib. Researches,” vol. i. pp. 36, 37.) The illustration in the book, from the Pictorial Bible, will give an idea of the present appearance of Heliopolis.
In that day shall there be an altar - An “altar” is properly a place on which sacrifices are offered. According to the Mosaic law, but one great altar was to be erected for sacrifices. But the word ‘altar’ is often used in another sense to denote a place of “memorial;” or a place of worship in general (Joshua 22:22-26. It is clear that Isaiah did not intend that this should be taken “literally,” or that there should be a rival temple and altar erected in Egypt, but his description is evidently taken in part from the account of the religion of the patriarchs who erected altars and pillars and monuments to mark the places of the worship of the true God. The parallelism here, where ‘pillars’ are mentioned, shows in what sense the word ‘altar’ is used. It means that the worship of the true God would be established in Egypt, and that certain “places” should be set apart to his service. “altars” were among the first places reared as connected with the worship of God (see Genesis 8:20; Genesis 12:7; Genesis 35:1; Exodus 17:15).
To the Lord - To Yahweh - the true God.
And a pillar - That is, a memorial to God. Thus Jacob set up the stone on which he had lain ‘for a pillar,’ and poured oil on it Genesis 28:18. Again Genesis 35:14, he set up a pillar to mark the place where God met him and talked with him (compare Genesis 31:13; Leviticus 26:1; Deuteronomy 16:22). The word ‘pillar,’ when thus used, denotes a stone, or column of wood, erected as a monument or memorial; and especially a memorial of some manifestation of God or of his favor. Before temples were known, such pillars would naturally be erected; and the description here means simply that Yahweh would be worshipped in Egypt.
At the border thereof - Not in one place merely, but in all parts of Egypt. It is not improbable that the “name” of Yahweh, or some rude designation of the nature of his worship, would be inscribed on such pillars. It is known that the Egyptians were accustomed to rear pillars, monuments, obelisks, etc., to commemorate great events, and that the names and deeds of illustrious persons were engraven on them; and the prophet here says, that such monuments should be reared to Yahweh. In regard to the fulfillment of this prophecy, there can be no question. After the time of Alexander the Great, large numbers of Jews were settled in Egypt. They were favored by the Ptolemies, and they became so numerous that it was deemed necessary that their Scriptures should be translated into Greek for their use, and accordingly the translation called the Septuagint was made. See Introduction, Section 8, 1, (1).
And it shall be for a sign - The altar, and the pillar. This shows that the altar was not to be for sacrifice, but was a “memorial,” or designed to designate a place of worship.
They shall cry to the Lord because of the oppressors - That is, oppressed and borne down under the exactions of their rulers, they shall seek deliverance from the true God - one instance among many of the effect of affliction and oppression in leading people to embrace the true religion.
And he shall send them a saviour - Who this “saviour” would be, has been a subject on which there has been a great difference of opinion. Grotius supposes that it would be “the angel” by which the army of Sennacherib would be destroyed. Gesenius thinks it was Psammetichus, who would deliver them from the tyranny of the eleven kings who were contending with each other, or that, since in Isaiah 19:4, he is called a ‘severe lord,’ it is probable that the promise here is to be understood of a delivering or protecting angel. But it is evident that some person is here denoted who would be sent “subsequently” to the national judgments which are here designated. Dr. Gill supposes that by the saviour here is meant the Messiah; but this interpretation does not suit the connection, for it is evident that the event here predicted, was to take place before the coming of Christ. Vitringa and Dr. Newton suppose with more probability that Alexander the Great is here referred to, who took possession of Egypt after his conquest in the East, and who might be called “a saviour,” inasmuch as he delivered them from the reign of the oppressive kings who had tyrannized there, and inasmuch as his reign and the reigns of those who succeeded him in Egypt, would be much more mild than that of the former kings of that country.
That Alexander the Great was regarded by the Egyptians as a saviour or deliverer, is apparent from history. Upon his coming to Egypt, the people submitted to him cheerfully, out of hatred to the Persians, so that he became master of the country without any opposition (Diod. Sic. xvii. 49; Arrian, iii. 3, 1; Q. Curtius, iv. 7, 8, as quoted by Newton). He treated them with much kindness; built the city of Alexandria, calling it after his own name, designing to make it the capital of his empire; and under him and the Ptolemies who succeeded him, trade revived, commerce flourished, learning was patronized, and peace and plenty blessed the land. Among other things, Alexander transplanted many Jews into Alexandria, and granted them many privileges, equal to the Macedonians themselves (Jos. “Bell. Jud.” ii. 18. 7; “Contra Ap.” ii. 4). ‘The arrival of Alexander,’ says Wilkinson (“Ancient Egyptians,” vol. i. pp. 213, 214), ‘was greeted with universal satisfaction.
Their hatred of the Persians, and their frequent alliances with the Greeks, who had fought under the same banners against a common enemy, naturally taught the Egyptians to welcome the Macedonian army with the strongest demonstrations of friendship, and to consider their coming as a direct interposition of the gods; and so wise and considerate was the conduct of the early Ptolemies, that they almost ceased to regret the period when they were governed by their native princes.’ Under the Ptolemies, large numbers of the Jews settled in Egypt. For their use, as has been remarked, the Old Testament was translated into Greek, and a temple was built by Onias, under the sixth Ptolemy. Philo represents the number of the Jews in Egypt in his time at not less than one million. They were settled in nearly all parts oF Egypt; but particularly in Heliopolis or the city of the sun, in Migdol, in Tahpanes, in Noph or Memphis, in Pathros or Thebais Jeremiah 44:1 - perhaps the five cities referred to in Isaiah 19:18.
And a great one - (ורב vârâb). A mighty one; a powerful saviour. The name ‘great’ has been commonly assigned to Alexander. The Septuagint renders this, ‘Judging (κρίνων krinōn), he shall save them;’ evidently regarding רב râb as derived from ריב riyb “to manage a cause, or to judge.” Lowth renders it, ‘A vindicator.’ The word means “great, mighty;” and is repeatedly applied to a prince, chief, or captain 2 Kings 25:8; Esther 1:8; Daniel 1:3; Daniel 2:48; Daniel 5:11.
And the Lord shall be known to Egypt - Shall be worshipped and honored by the Jews who shall dwell there, and by those who shall be proselyted to their religion.
And the Egyptians shall know the Lord - That many of the Egyptians would be converted to the Jewish religion there can be no doubt. This was the result in all countries where the Jews had a residence (compare the notes at Acts 2:9-11).
And shall do sacrifice - Shall offer sacrifices to Yahweh. They would naturally go to Jerusalem as often as practicable, and unite with the Jews there, in the customary rites of their religion.
And oblations - The word מנחה minichāh ‘oblation,’ denotes any offering that is not a “bloody” sacrifice - a thank-offering; an offering of incense, flour, grain, etc. (see the notes at Isaiah 1:13) The sense is, that they should be true worshippers of God.
They shall vow a vow ... - They shall be sincere and true worshippers of God. The large numbers of the Jews that dwelt there; the fact that many of them doubtless were sincere; the circumstances recorded Acts 2:9-11, that Jews were in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost; and the fact that the true religion was carried to Egypt, and the Christian religion established there, all show how fully this prediction was fulfilled.
And the Lord shall smite Egypt - That is, in the manner described in the previous part of this prophecy Isaiah 19:2-10.
And heal it - Or restore it to more than its former splendor and prosperity, as described in the previous verses Isaiah 19:18-20. He shall send it a saviour; he shall open new sources of prosperity; and he shall cause the true religion to flourish there. These advantages would be more than a compensation for all the calamities that he would bring upon it.
And they shall return ... - These calamities shall be the means of their conversion to Yahweh.
There shall be a highway - A communication; that is, there shall be an alliance between Egypt and Assyria, as constituting parts of one empire, and as united in the service of the true God. The same figure of a “highway” is found in Isaiah 11:16 (see the note on that place). The truth was, that Alexander, by his conquests, subjected Assyria and Egypt, and they constituted parts of his empire, and were united under him. It was true, also, that there were large numbers of Jews in both these countries, and that they were united in the service of the true God. They worshipped him in those countries; and they met at Jerusalem at the great feasts, and thus Judah, Assyria, and Egypt, were united in his worship.
And the Assyrian shall come into Egypt - There shall be free and uninterrupted contact between the two nations, as parts of the same empire.
And the Egyptians shall serve with the Assyrians - In the same armies; under the same leader. This was the case under Alexander the Great. Or the word ‘serve’ may mean that they would serve God unitedly. So Lowth and Noyes render it.
In that day shall Israel be the third - That is, the three shall be united as one people. Instead of being rival, hostile, and contending kingdoms, they shall be united and friendly; and instead of having different and jarring religions, they shall all worship the same God. The prophecy rather refers to the spread of the true religion, and the worship of the true God, than to a political or civil alliance.
Even a blessing - It shall be a source of blessing, because from Judea the true religion would extend into the other lands.
In the midst of the land - That is, “the united land” - composed of the three nations now joined in alliance. Judea was situated in the “midst” of this united land, or occupied a central position between the two. It was also true that it occupied a central position in regard to the whole earth, and that from it, as a radiating point, the true religion was disseminated throughout all nations.
whom the Lord of hosts shall bless - That is, which united country he shall acknowledge as truly worshipping him, and on which he shall bestow his favors as his favored people.
Assyria the work of my hands - This is synonymous with the expression ‘my people.’ It means that the arrangements by which the true religion would be established among them, were the work of God. Conversion to God is everywhere in the Scriptures spoken of as his work, or creation; see Ephesians 2:10 : ‘For we are his workmanship; created in Christ Jesus unto good works’ (compare 2 Corinthians 5:17; Psalms 100:3).
Israel mine inheritance - The land and people which is especially my own - a name not unfrequently given to Israel. For a learned examination of the various hypotheses in regard to the fulfillment of this prophecy, see Vitringa. He himself applies it to the times succeeding Alexander the Great. Alexander he regards as the ‘saviour’ mentioned in Isaiah 19:20; and the establishment of the true religion referred to by the prophet as that which would take place under the Ptolemies. Vitringa has proved - what indeed is known to all who have the slightest knowledge of history that there were large numbers of Jews under the Ptolemies in Egypt, and that multitudes became proselytes to the Jewish faith.
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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Isaiah 19". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20